Mr. Superinvisible

Director: Antonio Margheriti 
Dean Jones, Philippe Leroy, Gastone Moschin

I like to think that I have a great imagination. Several times a day I find that I take the time to imagine myself in greater positions of power that I am currently in. Of course, I realize even when I let my mind run riot that these imagined situations are not real, and probably could never become real. One idea that I like to imagine is having various superpowers, superpowers like those you associate with characters found in comic books. But even when I imagine myself with superpowers, or treat myself to reading a comic book about these ficitional superheroes, my mind more often than not doesn't just consider the advantages of the superpowers, but also considers the potential problems one might have having the superpowers in question. Take Superman, for example. His various superpowers have intrigued me enough over the years that I sometimes wish I had some of them. One of his powers, however, I have questioned several times to myself, and that is his ability to shoot heat rays. As you probably know, he shoots these heat rays out of his eyes. The heat from these rays is powerful enough for him to burn off the stubble off his face every morning in front of the bathroom mirror. This seems to suggest that he could burn himself if he were to focus on one particular area on his face for too long. But if his heat rays can get that intense in temperature, what about inside his head, where the heat rays come from? Wouldn't he burn his brain or optic nerves? And how does he manage to see when heat rays are coming out of his eyes? Maybe his X-ray vision comes to play here, though wouldn't it be difficult to pull off two eye-related superpowers at the same time?

Then there is the power of being invisible, a power that countless figures in comic books over the decades have managed to boast. When you think about it at first, it may seem like a handy and useful superpower to have. You could spy on people more easily without being detected. You wouldn't have to worry about what clothes to wear in the morning, since you could go about your business naked. And it would be a great way to increase your power and social standing, because you could more easily steal things or dare I say it, more easily bump off undesirables in your way. Such dark actions coming from invisibility were illustrated more than a hundred years ago with the H. G. Wells novel The Invisible Man. But Wells was smart enough in his novel to describe a number of pitfalls that could happen to a person who had the power of invisibility. If you wanted to be invisible to get around undetected, you would have to be naked, and be exposed to the elements if you went outside. If you ate something, outside observers would see undigested food hanging around mid air until it was absorbed by your body. If you were invisible and wanted to be seen, you would have to be completely covered with clothing, as well as having bandages and sunglasses over your face. Wells also suggested that a person with the power of invisibility would become drunk with power and eventually go mad. There is one additional problem from becoming invisible that I once read as a child in another book. I read that if you were invisible, you would be blind. That's because the eye, being transparent, wouldn't be able to absorb light and send visual information to your brain.

So as you can probably imagine, the power of invisibility has never been that appealing to me, even when I was a child. Walking around nude with my mighty junk exposed to the elements? Even though no one Mr. Superinvisiblewould see me naked, no thanks. When it comes to invisibility, I'll stick to reading stories or watching cinematic stories about people who have the power. When it comes to the latter, there have been good and bad tellings. The good have included the classic 1933 The Invisible Man, and the bad have included the 2000 movie Hollow Man. When I discovered a copy of Mr. Superinvisible, its quality seemed to be, well, visible before I actually watched it. But I couldn't resist. It was an Italian production helmed by the legendary Antonio Margheriti, who directed unforgettable experiences like Yor: The Hunter Of The Future and the two Indio movies. With this movie, he actually managed to land an American star who was hot stuff at the time - Dean Jones, who was at the time appearing in a number of popular Disney movies. In this movie, Jones plays Peter Denwell, a scientist in Geneva, Switzerland who is working at an institute for a cure for the common cold. He has a crush on Irene (played by German actress Ingeborg Schoner), a fellow scientist at the institute, but (you guessed it) she already has a boyfriend who (you guessed it) is a jerk. One day, Peter gets a package from a collegue in India that contains a strange formula. It doesn't take long for Peter to discover that when you swallow some of the formula, you temporarily turn invisible. Naturally, Peter takes advantage of this newfound power of invisibility to humiliate Irene's snobby boyfriend. But around the same time, evil forces get to work and steal "Virus D" from the institute, a formula that in the right hands can have its owners able to take over the world. With the world now threatened, Peter, with the aid of his sheepdog Dylan, vows to stop the evil forces with his power of invisibility.

I serious doubt that anyone ranging from professional movie critics to ordinary moviegoers over the years ever considered Dean Jones to be a great actor. While Jones during his acting career proved on more than one occasion that he had range other than the family film good guy roles he's most remembered for (he made a hissable villain in the family flick Beethoven), a look at his credits shows that he wasn't exactly in great demand from studios for other kind of roles once he gained fame from his Disney movies. But while Jones may not have been the greatest actor ever, he did have one advantage that he used in those Disney movies. In those movies, he brought in an instant likability to his characters. I remember seeing his movies as a kid and thinking about each of his characters, "This is a nice guy, I hope he succeeds." His likablity is a kind that comes across even if his movies are dubbed in another language. This is probably the main reason why the European producers of Mr. Superinvisible hired Jones. Indeed, Jones in this movie still has that attractive charisma that he brought to his Disney movies, one that gets you on his character's side very quickly. Those who are accustomed to Jones' Disney movies may be surprised that in this movie, Jones gets to spread his wings a little more than back in Hollywood. I don't think in any of Jones' Disney movies was there a scene where, finding himself turning visible again, he is forced to wear a woman's dress for an extended period of time before he can get some proper clothes. That's because the formula just turns the body invisible, and not the clothes the person wears. This leads to several scenes with the formula wearing off and exposing Jones with no clothes on. Yes, you read that right: DEAN JONES NAKED. Well, as naked as a G-rated kiddie flick will allow, but it will still be a surprise to many viewers accustomed to the ordinarily clean-cut Jones.

As I said in the previous paragraph, Dean Jones has a charisma that makes his character instantly likable. It's a good thing, because the script doesn't give his character that many favors. In the beginning, the character of Peter Denwell is kind of spineless, meekly accepting things like the threat of being fired from his job. He does grow a significant amount of backbone once he starts using the invisibility formula, but even then he suffers from an annoying amount of stupidity. After learning what the formula can do, he doesn't sit down to test it carefully, he instantly and repeatedly uses it with no apparent concern if there are any side effects or long term problems with using it. When the invisible Peter traps and locks up two villains who break into his lab, he exits the lab to call security despite there being a phone right where he was. Of course, this means he doesn't see the villains get freed by an unseen ally just before security comes and finds no one in the lab. (And it takes Peter an incredible amount of time to figure out who the traitor in the institute is despite only one other person having a key to enter his lab.) Even kids in the audience will be wondering why this character quite often doesn't do the most logical thing. In fact, they will be saying the same thing about many of the other characters in the movie. The virus that the villians of the movie are seeking is eventually revealed to be a dud and not dangerous at all, a fact they should have learned the same time Peter did (because of their spies at the institute), but for some reason didn't. The person in India who sends the invisibility formula to the institute wants Peter's boss to have it, so why on earth did he address the package to Peter instead of Peter's boss?

It's not just the characters that are lacking intelligence in this movie, but also the screenwriters, who provide head-scratching details like scientific laboratories having full bathrooms with showers. By now it should become clear that Mr. Superinvisible is a pretty feeble-minded movie, but it might have still been entertaining if it had been executed with spark and a feeling of fun. But director Antonio Margheriti doesn't manage to do this. In his defense, he was working with a limited budget, so the special effect sequences involving invisibility are more often than not very obvious. When Peter's right hand first disappears, for example, it's obvious that Jones just has his hand tucked up the sleeve of his robe. Objects held by invisible characters are obviously attached to poorly manipulated wires, and disappearing and reappearing people use the creaky technique of dissolving from one shot to another. A bigger concern than the poor special effects is that Margheriti doesn't seem to have a sense of humor. There are various sequences (such as when an invisible Peter crashes a sťance) that should have been zany, mixing in the fantastic (invisibility) while characters struggle to maintain civility and order. But there's no imagination in these supposed comic sequences - they are executed in a flat manner that suggests Margheriti was trying his best to get them over with as quickly as possible. This seemingly rushed approach extends even to the more serious moments of the movie. Despite the Swiss setting, there is almost no effort to add in some local color, whether it be with the characters or the backdrop. Just about every sequence comes across as anonymous, like it could be happening anywhere. Maybe that was intentional, to make the movie more "universal" so it could be sold to various foreign territories. But it doesn't take an Indian potion to see that this technique heavily contributes to there being no heart in sight anywhere in this movie. Mr. Superinvisible is a product, not a labor of love. Move along folks, there's nothing to see here.

(Posted September 17, 2015)

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See also: Aladdin, Star Kid, Thunderpants